At Matthews Hall, the week has been full of excitement about snow, upcoming ski trips and talent shows – and, as is usual in any school, a myriad of questions on a variety of topics from Kindergarten to Grade 8.
It seems fitting that the beginning of any calendar year should begin with questions. After all, questions provide the “energy for combustion” that brings learning to life. Without questions from our students and our children, how would they (or we) ever be able to learn?
For those of us who are parents, questions can also be tiring. “Are we almost there? What’s for dinner? Why? Where? How? What for? When? Now?” However, as teachers, we deal in the “question and answer business” for a living and this can sometimes lead to a belief that all the important ones have been “asked and answered”. This would be a mistake because the knack of posing good questions is both art and science.
Insightful teachers realize that they do not know everything. They also realize that there is no reason to assume that their students know nothing. That is why the approach to questioning employed by some teachers (the-guess-what-I’m-thinking variety) can become so tedious and frustrating for students.
The 21st-century classroom has undergone many changes, from the growing implementation of new tools and technologies, to new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. One of these new mindsets has to do with the negotiated voice students have over their own learning. While the most innovative classrooms demonstrate a clear respect for the benefit of hands-on learning and real-life applications, the best evolve in ways that offer students genuine input to what and how they learn. This is known as a commitment to “inquiry-based learning”.
This is nothing new. Inquiry-based learning has been around since before Sir Isaac Newton wondered why an apple fell from the tree and hit him on the head. Great teachers have always valued inquiry learning modes from those working in one-room schoolhouses to those in cutting-edge laboratory schools. Unfortunately, as schools evolved in our industrialized world, the personalized nature of an inquiry-based approach to learning often fell by the wayside. The result was often a “one-size-fits-all” program for students with different needs, talents and interests – and different questions!
At Matthews Hall, we are excited that technology and new inquiry-based research and fresh approaches are giving us ways to personalize learning as our teachers continue to learn and adapt new teaching and assessment tools in our classrooms.
Why are we doing this? Our students won’t be able to use Google to find cures for the world’s diseases or figure out how to negotiate a peace treaty. The answers they will need haven’t even been invented yet, and won’t show up in search results. In order to answer the important questions, they will have to have practice asking the right questions.
Inquiry-based learning is a commitment to helping students ask good questions, so they will one day be able to find the answers that really matter. As philosopher Thomas Paine once said, “it is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
Ric Anderson, Head of School